China cyberattack on British MPs exposed

London: British MPs pushing to take a tougher stance on Beijing have been told that a cyberattack had been launched against them, a day after Five Eyes nations and allies accused China’s Ministry of State Security of carrying out a fresh cyber intrusion.

The MPs were told that a successful intrusion had taken place and that another was imminent and that co-chairs of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) were the specific targets.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith learned of the attack from a colleague.Credit:Marco Del Grande

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith who helped found the IPAC told the Commons that he had only learned of the threat via his IPAC colleagues and not from his own government.

“I understand now that there is intelligence from the Five Eyes sources which shows that there is now a very active and direct threat from the Chinese government aimed directly at the co-chairs of the IPAC,” Sir Iain said.

The foreign MPs were given the heads up so they could try and protect themselves by being alert and on the lookout for any unusual cyber activity.

It stated that there was an “active threat” against co-chairs of the IPAC, which was formed last year, partly in response to China’s trade sanctions on Australia.

The nature of the threat was not specified but is almost certainly believed to be cyber rather than physical; crucially, the intelligence was believed to have been gathered by the British.

The IPAC comprises around 200 MPs from 20 legislatures around the world including Australia, the UK, US and Germany and has been dubbed the “nuisance alliance” by Chinese propaganda.

Sir Iain demanded to know if the British government had received the same intelligence.

“And if so, why have they not informed the co-chairs and others here like other allies have done?” he said.

The IPAC is represented in Australia by the chair of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee James Paterson and Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching.

Five Eyes nations and Japan formally blamed China for a massive hack of Microsoft Exchange email server software and asserted that criminal hackers associated with the Chinese government have carried out ransomware and other illicit cyber operations. The charge has been disputed by Beijing.

Earlier this year, IPAC reported to Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre, a major cyberattack it suffered in March, which took down its website for several hours.

Junior minister James Cleverly said he would not discuss intelligence in public. Cleverly was responding to urgent questions from backbenchers about China’s hack on Microsoft’s Exchange email server.

The hack, which began in January, gave the Chinese access to tens of thousands of computers around the world. The Five Eyes countries, Japan, the EU and NATO all named China as the culprit in the first joint attribution that the democracies have made.

A grand jury in the US indicted three Chinese security officials over hackings of companies, universities and foreign government entities.

MPs from all parties slammed the government for not announcing any sanctions or charges like the Americans.

Speaking separately to a Chatham House audience, Kevin Rudd said cyberattacks waged by authoritarian regimes were a “regular reality” when was prime minister.

“Certainly in our periods in office, it was an active and real concern,” he told former Labour frontbencher David Miliband.

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